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San Jose's young trio could be future of back line

Darlington Nagbe and Justin Morrow

Photo Credit: 
Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers

The San Jose Earthquakes got a peek Wednesday night at what their future backline might look like.

And though it wasn’t perfect in the Quakes’ 1-1 tie against Portland — as evidenced by Darlington Nagbe’s piercing run to set up Kenny Cooper’s ninth-minute strike — San Jose could take heart in the performances of youngsters Nana Attakora in the middle, Steven Beitashour on the right and Justin Morrow (above) on the left.

It was the first time this season that Beitashour, Morrow and Attakora — ages 24, 23 and 22, respectively — started together. Bobby Burling, three weeks from turning 27, was the veteran of the group.

“It could be,” Beitashour said when asked if this was a possible 2012 preview. “We’re all young, but I think our whole back line’s pretty talented.”

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Center back Jason Hernandez, 28, had been a constant in coach Frank Yallop’s lineup until a left quadriceps strain put him on the shelf, including for Saturday’s match at Colorado. Chris Leitch, 32, is still a legitimate option on the right side. And 34-year-old captain Ramiro Corrales, though playing at the moment in central midfield, has Yallop’s full support at left back as well.

Long-term, however, the Quakes’ youth movement — including center back Ike Opara, assuming the 22-year-old can overcome his twice-broken left foot — may be the way they go, especially the pairing of close friends Beitashour and Morrow on the outside.

“Steven and I are roommates on the road and it has been great to both be in the lineup,” Morrow said. “We have both grown a lot in the past year-and-a-half and it feels good to be contributing. We bring some different qualities to the lineup.”

Most notably, the duo bring a level of speed unmatched by any other pairing Yallop can put forth. And the ability of both players to skitter down the wings have helped San Jose’s recent foray into playing a possession style take off. On Wednesday, Morrow’s overlapping run was a huge part of the buildup to Khari Stephenson’s point-saving goal.

“When you have speed, either recovery speed or get-by-people speed, it’s an advantage,” Beitashour said.

Unless, of course, you’re talking about the times when Beitashour and Morrow wind up on opposite teams in San Jose’s training sessions.

“Whenever we scrimmage against each other, he and I go at each other, and it doesn’t work out well,” Beitashour said. “It’s like two rams butting heads. He tries to do the speed stuff on me, and I stay with him. I try to do the speed stuff on him, and he stays with me.”

So, Steve, who’s faster?

“He’s a good friend,” Beitashour explained with a laugh, “so I’ll say we have the same speed.”

Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at sanjosequakes@gmail.com.